I was quite excited by the prospect of spending a week cooking from a book of traditional British childhood favourites. So many of the things in this book I remember well, the fond glow of nostalgia illuminating their former unremarkableness: corned beef hash (although it should not contain tomatoes!), liver and bacon, shepherd’s pie. I never eat these things anymore, and it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to. Although there are a few things I never liked and still can’t stomach (gammon and cod and parsley sauce, bleugh). There are also a couple of glaring omissions, to my mind: where is the steak and kidney pie recipe? Chicken and mushroom pie, even? There are no pie recipes with pastry at all. And I would have liked a sausage casserole, but maybe that’s just me.
Macaroni cheese was the staple fallback meal of my childhood. Whenever my parents wanted to eat something that my brother and I would have shunned with our unsophisticated palates (or they just didn’t want to share with us) or time was short, macaroni cheese it would be. It was the only thing I really knew how to cook when I went to university, and I probably haven’t eaten it in ten years. Well, I’m not going to wait that long again. I felt comforted just looking at it coming out of the oven, all browned and crusty on top. With the first forkful I fell happily silent. Macaroni cheese is like the hot bath of foodstuffs – it’s impossible for it not to make you feel better.
The recipe below is for macaroni cheese as I remember it – no fussy additions, no breadcrumbs on top, just cheese sauce and pasta. As Norrington-Davies says, “Nothing should leap out at you except a clumsy, gooey richness.” Oh, there are a few tomatoes, which were never a feature when I was a child, but I thought I’d add them now I’m an adult and voluntarily eat vegetables. You could leave them out. Also, this is a mild-tasting sauce, not aggressively cheesy, which is right, I think, but you could of course use more cheese.
Macaroni cheese Serves 2
25g plain flour
25g mature cheddar, grated
400ml whole milk
handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to its highest setting, or if you have a grill in your oven turn that on high.
Put on a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook the macaroni according to packet instructions.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan big enough to hold all the milk. When it has melted and is bubbling, stir in the flour. Leave to cook for a minute. Pour in a third of the milk and stir – you may need to switch to a whisk here to stop lumps forming. Then pour in the rest of the milk and cook for a few minutes, continuing to whisk, until the sauce thickens. Stir in two thirds of the cheese, season and turn off the heat. If the pasta is not ready yet, put a lid on the pan to keep the sauce warm.
When the pasta is cooked (it should be quite tender, not al dente), drain it and stir it through the sauce. Pile into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Dot with the cherry tomatoes, if using, and give the top a final sprinkle of black pepper.
Put the macaroni cheese into the oven until the top is browned and crusty.
From Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.